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June 24, 2009 permalink
Ontario ombudsman André Marin issued his fourth annual report (pdf) yesterday. As usual, the prime discussion of children's aid concerns his legislated inability to look into this sector. Children's aid continues to extort custody of children away from parents of severely disabled children.
Children's Aid Societies
As the chart below indicates, our Office continues to receive complaints about children’s aid societies (CASs) that we are forced to turn away. We received a total of 429 complaints and inquiries about CASs this fiscal year. These complaints have increased significantly over the past eight years.
These complaints raised a wide variety of issues and allegations, including:
- CAS refusal to investigate allegations of abuse;
- concerns about the care of children in CAS custody or supervision;
- concerns about CAS apprehension of children;
- CAS refusal to disclose information relating to the reasons for apprehension, or services provided to children in care;
- unreasonable demands placed on parents seeking access to children in CAS care;
- allegations of abuse of authority by CAS workers;
- a biased and adversarial complaint process;
- allegations of retaliatory actions against parents who challenged CAS decisions; and
- CAS failure to provide timely notice to parents of court dates.
Many complainants also felt they were at a disadvantage in challenging CAS actions, given that legal representation is expensive, while the CAS is represented by publicly funded lawyers.
The changes implemented in 2006, which revised the internal CAS complaints process and expanded the mandate of the Child and Family Services Review Board (CFSRB), have done little to assuage those who have sought our assistance. The board’s authority to address complaints continues to be limited. This year, we received 10 complaints about the board itself. Complainants are often bewildered by the jurisdictional arguments and procedural rules they face during the board’s review process, as well as its inability to deal with their core concerns.
In a recent CFSRB decision, a board member considered the strictures of the current complaint scheme, and observed that:
…the Board does not participate in assessing the validity of any complaints on their merits, nor is there anything for the Board to overturn or quash in such a process. The Board’s only substantive remedies are to redirect the complaint for further review or to order a CAS to provide written reasons for its “decision,” i.e. the decision whether to take further action at the completion of the complaints process.
The board member went on to note that people who raise concerns about the conduct of CASs end up confused when they find that the board’s “review” is restricted to consideration of procedural allegations. He noted that an independent investigative model – i.e., using an ombudsman or similar body – had been rejected in favour of an adversarial model in which “complainants bear the burden of advancing their complaints within the very organization about which they are complaining.” He added that complainants might feel vulnerable and fear retribution for participating in the complaint procedure.
In the Legislature, attempts were made again this year to address the lack of Ombudsman oversight of child protection services through the introduction of private member’s bills. On June 11, 2008, Bill 93, the Ombudsman Amendment Act (Children’s Aid Societies), 2008, introduced by NDP MPP Andrea Horwath, received first reading. Bill 130, the Children’s Safety and Protection Rights Act, 2008, also included provision for Ombudsman oversight of children’s aid societies, but failed to pass second reading on April 30, 2009.
“There needs to be accountability and the Ontario Ombudsman should be given complete ‘absolute’ power to over look the CAS… and have them all held accountable.”
– Robert, via Facebook (Ontario Ombudsman Page)
“CAS is making decisions affecting the lives of families and in particular, innocent children and does so with impunity. We must bring these matters out of the closet and bring accountability to our precious and innocent children. Please write to your MPP and insist they support Bill 93.”
– Randal, via Facebook (Ontario Ombudsman Page)
In addition, the Ombudsman made submissions to the Standing Committee on Social Policy during its consideration of Bill 103, the Child and Family Services Statute Law Amendment Act, 2009, urging greater protection for communication between children and our Office. Consequently, amendments were made to the Bill that provide for improved access and communication with young persons by the Ombudsman and other specified individuals.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place – Special-Needs Children
In his 2005 report, Between a Rock and Hard Place, the Ombudsman found that as many as 150 families had been forced to surrender their parental rights to children’s aid societies (CASs) in order to get their severely disabled children the residential care they required. He found that the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS) had failed these families in a manner that was “unjust, oppressive and wrong” and recommended the Ministry immediately ensure custody rights were restored and funding was provided for residential placements outside of the child welfare system.
In response to the Ombudsman’s investigation, the Ministry announced an additional $10 million to assist children with severe needs in 2005, another $10 million in 2006, and $4 million was committed to Children’s Treatment Centres in 2007. Some 65 children were also returned to the care and custody of their parents. Two of the Ombudsman’s recommendations – that the Ministry remove its moratorium on special-needs agreements and that the government consider re-legislating the power to make special-needs agreements so that they are mandatory and administered outside of child protection matters – were not implemented. However, as an alternative, the Ministry committed to making special-needs services more accessible, better coordinated and centred on the needs of the children and their families.
In 2008, the Ombudsman’s Office once again began to receive complaints from families of children with severe disabilities, including some who had already relinquished the care of their children to a CAS in order to obtain a residential placement. In other cases, the families were in crisis and struggling to cope with the level of resources provided, having been told that there was no more funding available for the remainder of the fiscal year and no guarantees that it would be available in future, but they would be placed on a waiting list. In desperation, many began the process of giving up custody of their children in order to obtain the services they required. As of March 31, 2009, the Ombudsman had received 24 such complaints. Ombudsman staff are closely reviewing them and, where warranted, working directly with senior Ministry officials to attempt to ensure that appropriate treatment and placements are secured for the children without parents having to give up custody rights.
In one case, the parents of a nine-month-old baby who is blind, has cerebral palsy and is severely developmentally disabled were forced to sign a temporary care agreement with a CAS in order to place their daughter in a facility where she will receive high-quality, 24-hour care. They had attempted to care for her at home but when they realized she required full-time residential care, their local service co-ordination agency turned them down, saying there were budgetary constraints and waiting lists. They felt they had no option but to turn to the CAS. It was not until this family’s case received considerable media attention and the Ombudsman’s Office became involved that the MCYS intervened to secure funding for the child’s residential placement and care and the parents’ full custody rights were restored.
“If indeed this is happening again, then it is one of the most morally repugnant things that government has done.”
– Ombudsman André Marin, as quoted in the Ottawa Citizen, February 7, 2009
In another case, the parents of three special-needs children, including an eightyear- old boy with autism and attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder, requested a residential placement for him because they felt they could no longer cope – at home, the boy had to be in a bare room with the bed bolted to the floor and locks on the door so he could not injure himself or others. He was placed on a priority list for placement, but they were told there was no money to fund his care even if a space became available. Feeling they had nowhere else to turn, the parents were on the verge of giving up custody rights to the CAS. But once the Ombudsman’s Office brought the case to the attention of senior MCYS staff, a suitable residential placement with the requisite funding was procured within a few days.
In yet another case, the parents of twin developmentally delayed boys went to the CAS in the hope of obtaining residential treatment for one of their sons. They had previously seen the other boy improve significantly under residential care, but when they attempted to obtain a placement for the second son, they were told by their local service co-ordination agency that there was no funding available. The parents feared that the child was becoming a danger to himself and others and that his increasingly volatile behaviour was having a negative impact on his twin. They were preparing to sign a temporary care agreement with the CAS until the Ombudsman’s Office raised the case with senior MCYS staff so that funding and arrangements for a residential placement could be secured.
“We implore this government to heed the words of [André] Marin and solve the deplorable situation that forces parents of disabled children to, as he says, ‘act out of desperation.’ ”
– Windsor Star editorial, February 11, 2009
In response to this surge in complaints, the Ombudsman met with the Minister of Children and Youth Services, who confirmed that the Ministry remained committed to ensuring adequate resources for the residential placement of special-needs children – and to the principle that no family should have to surrender custody rights to the CAS in order to obtain a residential placement. The Ombudsman expressed concern, however, that an “early warning system” was needed and that unless the Ministry implemented improved measures to identify serious cases and to work more closely with local service co-ordination agencies, the trend of parents having to turn to CAS authorities would continue. It was also noted that better monitoring mechanisms were required to improve the Ministry’s awareness of waiting lists and budgetary constraints at the local level.
Senior Ombudsman staff continue to work closely with Ministry officials to address individual complaints and to identify means of resolving the broader systemic problems identified by the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is seeking regular updates from the Ministry on its progress and monitoring trends in complaints to determine if a systemic investigation may be necessary in future.
Addendum: Christina Blizzard asks the legislature to unleash Ontario's watchdog André Marin on children's aid.
Comment Columnists / Christina Blizzard
Power up the ombudsman
Andre Marin's office has shown it can make a difference, so let them loose in other sectors
By CHRISTINA BLIZZARD, SUN MEDIA, Last Updated: 24th June 2009, 4:40am
The capacity for the province's crusading Ombudsman Andre Marin to light rockets under the uncaring backsides of bureaucrats is legendary.
He has led the fight for better care for special needs children. His probe into the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) led to sweeping changes in that organization.
And he waged a high profile battle for more accountability from the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), which he branded as "cutthroat."
He's tackled the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which he slammed for its long delays and overly rigid methods of enforcing the rules.
His report yesterday gave us updates into his latest investigations: Secret meetings by municipalities. The need for change with the province's Special Investigations Unit.
The stories that drew my attention, though, were tucked away at the back of his report. They told how the ombudsman took on individual fights on behalf of the little people who'd run up against a bureaucratic brick wall.
- A Sault Ste. Marie woman gave birth to a very premature baby girl. The baby was taken to hospital in London, but the mother couldn't go with her as she was still in hospital.
When the parents finally could travel, the Northern Health Travel Grant wouldn't cover their costs because they weren't accompanying the patient. The ombudsman contacted health officials, who acknowledged the exceptional circumstances and reimbursed the family $748.
- Conflict of interest guidelines at the Ministry of Labour were overhauled after a worker who had lost a leg in an industrial accident complained.
The ministry's inspector had worked for the company in question for 24 years. The ombudsman's review revealed the inspector had failed to view the site of the accident and didn't ask for technical assistance from the ministry or issue orders to address contraventions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. He told ombudsman staff he relied on information provided by the company because he had previously worked there.
- A single mother of three children complained to the ombudsman the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) had wiped out a debt of more than $60,000 in child and spousal support owed her by her ex-husband.
The dad had obtained a new court order reducing his support payments due to reduced circumstances. The FRO had also erased the amount he still owed her under the old court order.
Staff at the FRO told her she was now owed only $5,400 and she would have to go to court to collect the rest.
After the ombudsman intervened, FRO reviewed the new court order and agreed they should not have erased the debt. They agreed to collect the entire $66,921 owed to the women and her children.
So who are the grumpiest people in the province? It seems they're jail inmates. The largest number of complaints were in Simcoe North, Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock and Ottawa-Orleans -- all ridings that have significant jail populations.
Again, Marin called for his powers to be extended to hospitals, school boards and children's aid societies.
The sooner the better, I say. Let him loose on children's aid first.
No one sticks pins in puffed up bureaucrats quite like Marin.
He brought the massive bureaucracies at MPAC and OLG to heel, but Marin is best when he fights for those who have no power.
Think what he could do for the most disadvantaged among us -- kids in the care of the Children's Aid. They have no voice, but he would speak for them -- loud and clear.
Source: Toronto Sun